Critic – The Hollywood Reporter

The best thing about FX’s Reservation Dogs is that depending on the episode, any of the show’s four stars — Devery Jacobs, D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Lane Factor, Paulina Alexis — could be front and center, as each of the young, previously unknown actors has already proven Their ability to anchor installments with creators Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi’s distinctive blend of quirky humor and earnest heart.

The worst thing about FX’s Reservation Dogs, at least when approaching the show through an awards-obsessed prism, is that it’s a pure ensemble, one uninterested in inviting easy “lead”/“supporting” classifications and one without a single breakout performance; there are four.

One week, the spotlight is on Woon-A-Tai as Bear, whose search for a positive male role model leads him to comic interactions with an amiably uninspiring spirit guide or to sadly pin his hopes on his hilariously deadbeat father.

Then, next week, you’d think the show was built around Jacobs’ Elora, grieving the recent loss of her best friend and the decades-old wounds from her mother’s death, with Jacobs skillfully and soulfully going head-to-head with guest stars like Gary Farmer and Bill Burr.

Blessed with thoroughly sui generis comic timing, Alexis gives each of Willie Jack’s lines a unique reading, and the episode “Hunting,” with the exceptional Jon Proudstar as Willie Jack’s father, is perhaps the first season’s richest.

And speaking of marvelous two-handers, Factor’s Cheese, seemingly able to bond with all the older characters, truly blossoms in “Come and Get Your Love,” an episode he shares with the great Zahn McClarnon as Big, part of their reservation’s Indigenous police force.

Together, the four actors and their instantly indelible characters make up a group of well-meaning hooligans, committing petty crimes as a way out of their seemingly dead-end community. They’re all shaped by a Hollywood they can’t fully relate to — see the show’s cheeky title or Bear’s dad’s music or Elora’s Willow-inspired name — and looking for a connection to a tribal past that’s being assimilated or slipping away entirely. It gives each actor the chance to feign toughness and to embody vulnerability in a way that’s universal to any teenage experience and entirely specific to Harjo’s Oklahoma roots.

Much credit goes to casting director Angelique Midthunder, who combined the United States and Canada for Native and First Nations actors. Reservation Dogs is Factor’s only credit. Woon-A-Tai and Alexis had been seen mostly on Canadian TV and together in the indie Beans. Jacobs had more prominent roles in shows including American Gods and Rutherford Falls, but it was this part that elevated her profile to the point where she’s got a big Marvel series coming next. Throw in discoveries like scene-stealers Lil Mike and Funny Bone as local rappers Mose and Mekko, a never-better Sarah Podemski as Bear’s hardworking mother, and so many underutilized Native actors in peak form, and Reservation Dogs is exactly the sort of project that casting awards should be made for.

This first story appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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